Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Battle with the Bottle

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A recent report carried the following headline, “America’s Drinking Problem Is Much Worse This Century.” According to the article, “Americans are drinking more than ever before, a troubling trend with potentially dire implications for the country’s future health-care costs.” The number of adults who binge drink at least once a week could be as high as 30 million, greater than the population of every state, save California. One of the doctors involved in the study concluded, “Alcohol is our number one drug problem . . . Excess drinking caused on average more than 88,000 deaths in the U.S. each year—more than twice the number of deaths from prescription opioids and heroin last year. The total includes drunk-driving deaths and alcohol-linked violence, as well as liver disease, strokes and other medical conditions.”[1]

The Bible is full of warnings about the dangers of alcohol, but perhaps the most vivid is found in Proverbs 23:29-35:  
“Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who tarry long over wine; those who go to try mixed wine.  Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly.  In the end it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder. Your eyes will see strange things, and your heart utter perverse things.  You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, like one who lies on the top of a mast. “They struck me,” you will say, “but I was not hurt; they beat me, but I did not feel it. When shall I awake? I must have another drink.”

Notice all the side effects that come from having too much to drink: sorrow, self-pity, hangover, bloodshot eyes, hallucinations, slurred speech, instability of mind, staggered steps, deadening of the senses and eventually addiction. Show me where to sign up for that!

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If you are struggling with the issue of drinking, I want you to know that God’s warnings are in place not because He’s a killjoy, but because He’s a lifesaver. God’s danger signs are in place to maximize life. You might think of God’s moral laws like guardrails that are put on a windy mountain pass to keep the car from careening off the edge.   

Randy Alcorn has said, “A smart traveler doesn’t curse guardrails.  He doesn’t whine, “That guardrail dented my fender!” He looks over the cliff, sees demolished autos and thanks God for guardrails. God’s guardrails are his moral laws. They stand between us and destruction. They are there not to punish or deprive us, but to protect us.”[2]     

Moderation is not the cure for the liquor problem. Moderation is the cause of the liquor problem. Becoming an alcoholic does not begin with the last drink, it begins with the first. Abstinence is best, because it’s impossible to be bitten by a rattlesnake you never play with.

By the way, for those of you who think it’s fine to drink and it won’t damage your Christian witness, consider Paul’s words:

·         Romans 14:21: “It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.” 

·         1 Corinthians 10:31: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

·         Philippians 2:4: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”   

When you drink in front of unbelievers, children and others who are looking to you as an example of Christ what message are you sending? If you know that there is someone who struggles with alcohol or has struggled in the past with alcohol abuse, out of respect for them the Bible says that we are to limit our Christian liberty for the sake of others. I think Ravi Zacharias gave us one of the best principles when it comes to understanding legitimate pleasure, “Any pleasure that jeopardizes the sacred right of another is an illicit pleasure.”    

In one of his books, Max Lucado, comes clean about his struggle with alcohol. Lucado said, “I come from a family of alcoholism. If there's anything about this DNA stuff, I've got it.” For more than 20 years, drinking wasn’t a major issue for Lucado. But a couple of years ago, it nearly became one. Lucado recalled, “I lowered my guard a bit. One beer with a barbecue won't hurt. Then another time with Mexican food. Then a time or two with no food at all.”

One afternoon on his way to speak at a men’s retreat he began to plot: “Where could I buy a beer and not be seen by anyone I know?” He drove to an out-of-the-way convenience store, parked, and waited till all the patrons left. He entered, bought a beer, held it close to his side, and hurried to his car. “I felt a sense of conviction,” Lucado remembers, “because the night before I'd had a long talk with my oldest daughter about not covering things up.”

Lucado didn't drink that beer. Instead he rolled down the window, threw it in a trash bin, and asked God for forgiveness. He also decided to come clean with the elders of his church about what happened: “When I shared it with the elders, they just looked at me across the table and said, ‘Satan is determined to get you for this right now. We're going to cover this with prayer, but you've got to get the alcohol out of your life.’”[3]

No matter how out-of-control your addiction might be, Christ has the ability to break the chains of your dependence. You can win the battle with the bottle. -DM





[1] John Tozzi, “America’s Drinking Problem Is Much Worse This Century,” Bloomberg News, 7 August 2017 <https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-08-09/america-s-drinking-problem-is-much-worse-this-century?utm_campaign=news&utm_medium=bd&utm_source=applenews>
[2] Randy Alcorn, The Purity Principle (Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2003), 28.
[3] Max Lucado, Grace: More Than We Deserve, Greater Than We Imagine (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2012), 81-88. 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Winning against Worry

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C. S. Lewis’ imaginative book The Screwtape Letters is a fictional story which records a series of conversations between a couple of Satan’s demons. Screwtape, the senior demon, explains to the junior devil, Wormwood, why they must tempt humans to worry and not trust God.  Screwtape says, “There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human's mind against the Enemy [God]. Our business is to keep them distracted, thinking about what might happen to them.”[1]

Screwtape’s comment gives us an insightful window into the root of worry. Anxiety over the unknown is motivated by the fear of what could happen. A person who worries is apt to let their imagination run wild with all kind of possibilities that they have no control over. J.C. Ryle once said, “Half of our miseries are caused by things we think are coming upon us.  All our fret and worry is caused by calculating without God.” Holocaust survivor Corrie Ten Boom added, “Worry is an old man with bended head, carrying a load of feathers which he thinks are lead.”

A few years ago, a major university did a research project on the things we fret about. Here are the results: 40% of what people worry about never happens. 30% of stressors have already happened and you can't do anything about the past. 12% fretted what others said about you, which most of the time is uncontrollable. 10% of worry deals with health issues and worrying will only make that worse! That leaves about eight percent of the things that are considered to be real problems...and worry will not do any good with these either![2]   

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned against worry as joy-killer to the Christian life, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they (Matt 6:26)?” Jesus’ point is that worry is irrational. His argument moves from the lesser to the greater. If God can give and sustain the life a bird, then surely He can do the same for you and me.

Jesus also defines worry with an interesting word picture. The Greek word in the text is merimno, which is the combination of two smaller terms—merizo, which means “to divide; and nous which means, “mind.” The idea is that the worried mind is one that is being pulled about in opposite directions. The worrier has their mind divided, or torn between fear and faith. What Jesus is saying here is quite powerful. In essence, worry comes from a heart of unbelief. Worry is a form of practical atheism, because it assumes there is no good God watching over us.

The reason why God doesn’t want us to worry is so that we can focus on what is truly important—building the kingdom of God. The Lord takes care of our physical needs so that we can busy about His work. Tomorrow will take care of itself, if today we decide to trust Jesus.  
 –DM



[1] C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1942), 25.  
[2] Max Lucado, Come Thirsty (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 111.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Past: One Reason Churches Die

When you think about things that can be detrimental to progress what comes to mind? A fear of the unknown; close-mindedness and a refusal to change; an unhealthy obsession with tradition?

Dr. Stephen Davey, pastor of Colonial Baptist Church in Cary, NC, once told an interesting story about his early days in ministry when he learned how fiercely backwards some churches can be. He wrote, “I first started preaching in a little chapel in the hills of Tennessee to about fifteen people. I will never forget one older man in that church who had been there longer than I had been alive. He taught the adult class and he basically, ran everything. Over the choir loft, there was a banner. The banner was decrepit, having become frayed, yellowed, and crinkled. It looked like it had been up there for a long time. So, I came up with a clever idea to give this church some momentum. We would change the banner; the logo and put up a fresh one. I contacted an artist and we began working on the new banner. I took the old banner down before church one Sunday morning, and was getting ready to put up the new, beautiful banner. I was putting it up, when in walked this mossy-backed deacon. The man walked about halfway in and stopped. I turned around to look at him and his face was red as a beet. He looked at me and said, “Young man, that’s been up there for twenty-two years.” He stormed out of that church and slammed the door behind him. Change was not a part of that church’s vocabulary, but I learned a valuable lesson, namely, that if you worship the past, you forfeit the future.”

Jesus once tried to teach a similar lesson to a group of Pharisee’s who were in love with their man-made traditions. He said, “No one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins” (Mark 2:22). Jesus’ point was that the Gospel message he brought could not be mixed with the dry, old religious traditions of the Jews. The message of the cross can never be changed (the new wine), but the method and means by which we deliver the Gospel (the old wineskins) must change to keep up with the times.


The saddest tragedy is when churches become so tied to the traditions of the past they are unwilling to change in order to move forward. The past can be a rudder that guides you or an anchor that hinders you. It’s my prayer that we never lose sight of the fact that we day we refuse to change because “things have always been done this way” is the day we die.  -DM  

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Stupidity of Secret Sin

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The headline seemed like something out of a comedy movie, “Burglar Leaves Trail of Cheetos.” According to the ABC News article, here’s what happened.

During the early morning hours of January 6, 2013, county deputies were called to the Cassatt Country Store in Cassatt, South Carolina to investigate a burglary. The deputies determined that someone had broken into the store and stolen beer, cigarettes, snack foods, and energy drinks. The burglar only stole $160 worth of goods, but caused about $2,500 in damages. The store manager surveyed the damage, but noticed that in his haste to escape the intruder punctured two or three bags of Cheetos. That was the robber’s undoing. When police arrived they followed the trail of cheesy breadcrumbs less than 1/5 of a mile from the convenient store, right to the house where the burglar was staying with a friend. As officers approached the front door of the home, they observed more fresh Cheetos on the front porch.[1]

I wonder, when the thief was fingerprinted at the police station did he leave a cheese dust residue? “Be sure your sin will find you out,” Numbers 32:23 tells us. We may sometimes be able to hide our sin from the people around us, but nothing is ever “hidden from God’s sight” (Heb. 4:13). He sees each of our failures, thoughts, and motivations (1 Sam. 16:7; Luke 12:2-3). Our sin may not be revealed as quickly as the Cheeto bandit, but our sinful actions will leave a trail. Like the bungling burglar, we aren’t nearly as clever as we think we are. God will not allow His children to sin successfully. Our sin may be a secret on earth, but I can assure you that it’s an open scandal in heaven. Consider the words of the theologian A.W. Pink:

“How solemn is this fact: nothing can be concealed from God! Though he be invisible to us, we are not so to Him.  Neither the darkness of night, nor the closest curtains, nor the deepest dungeons can hide any sinner from the eyes of God’s omniscience. The trees of the garden were not enough to conceal Adam and Eve’s guilt. The earth under Achan’s tent could not hide his stolen gold. Neither could the thick palatial walls protect David from the piercing gaze and the boney finger of the prophet, “Thou art the man.”[2]

Galatians 6:7 is an immutable law of the universe, just as sure as gravity, “Do not be deceived God is not mocked, for what so ever a man sows that which he also reaps.” We ought not sow wild oats and then pray for crop failure. There is nothing safe about secret sin. It is folly to think we can mitigate our sin by keeping it secret. It is double folly to tell ourselves that we are better than others because we sin in private rather than in public. And it is the very height of folly to convince ourselves that we can get away with sin by covering it up. “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper” (Pro. 28:13).

But here’s the good news of the Gospel: The sin we cover, God will eventually uncover and the sin we uncover, God will cover by the atonement of Christ (1 John 1:7, 9). -DM



[1] Kevin Dolak, “Trail of Cheetos Leads to Store Robber,” ABC News, 9 January 2013
<http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2013/01/trail-of-cheetos-leads-to-store-robber/>
[2] A.W. Pink, The Attributes of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1975), 22. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Just Shall Live By Faith

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This year, Protestants around the world celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. On Truth for Today, we have already looked back on the influence of John Wycliffe, “The Morning Star” of the Reformation (click here) and John Huss (click here). Now we will begin a series on one of the Reformation’s greatest heroes.  

In July 1505, a troubled young man walked through a field in Germany. He was caught in a terrible thunderstorm and electricity danced across the sky. A lightning bolt struck a nearby tree, and instantly he took it as a sign from God. “Help me, St. Anne and I will become a monk!” And so it was, partly to fulfill his vow, and partly to assuage his own personal turmoil, that Martin Luther entered the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt.

However, life inside the monastery did not ease Luther’s growing despair. The more he plunged himself into religious devotion, the more depressed, guilty and empty he felt. As C.S. Lewis once remarked, “No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good.” Luther later wrote that he suffered from anfechutungen, a German word interpreted as “guilt, fear and isolation from God.” Luther confessed:

“When I was a monk I depended on such willing and exertion, but the longer [I worked at it] the further away I got . . . I was very pious in the monastery, yet I was sad because I thought God was not gracious to me . . . When I had prayed and said my mass I was very presumptuous. I didn’t see the scoundrel behind it all because I didn’t put my trust in God but in my own righteousness . . . the most pious monk is the worst scoundrel . . . I was a good monk and kept my rule so strictly that I could say if ever a monk could get into heaven through monastic discipline, I was that monk . . . And yet my conscience would not give me that certainty, but I always doubted and said, “You didn’t do that right.  You weren’t contrite enough. You left that out of your confession. Although I lived a blameless life as a monk, I felt that I was a sinner with an uneasy conscience before God. I could also not believe that I had pleased him with my works. Far from loving that righteous God who punished sinners, I actually hated him. If I had kept on any longer, I should have killed myself with vigils, prayers, mass and other work.”[1]

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In 1510 Luther made a pilgrimage to Rome hoping that an experience among the relics, holy shrines, and monuments of the saints would help him secure salvation. Luther made his way to a building called the Lateran, where there was a series of ancient stairs called the Scala Santa that had been transported from Jerusalem to Rome. Supposedly, Jesus had walked on those stairs outside Pilate’s hall. The Catholic Church taught that if you got on your hands and knees and crawled up the twenty-eight stone stairs, and said prayer on each one of the stairs, by the time you got to the top stair you could reduce your time in purgatory. Thousands of pilgrims would come and climb those stairs on their hands and knees. Martin Luther—now deeply troubled—got on his hands and knees and crawled up those stairs, kissing each one as he crawled and saying “the Lord’s Prayer” in Latin along the way. When he got to the top he looked back at the stairway and asked himself a question, “What if it is not so?”[2]

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God used that experience in Luther’s life to help him see the utter futility and bankruptcy of the Catholic religion. The turning point came in 1515 when Luther was allowed to teach the Bible at the university in Wittenberg. It was then that he began reading the Scriptures as never before. The single verse that changed his life was, “the just shall live by faith” written by Paul some 1,500 years earlier, found in Gal. 3:11 and Rom 1:17.

Luther pondered day and night the connection between the righteousness of God and the justice of God, and the statement, “the just shall live by faith.” Then the light dawned and to Luther it felt as if he had “been reborn and had gone through open gates into paradise.” Luther realized that we are not saved by works, but by placing our faith solely in the sacrifice of Christ. By doing so, God will declare a sinner righteous because of Jesus’ atoning death. Jesus takes the sinners’ guilt and punishment, while the sinner receives Jesus’ perfect, sinless record. In other words, Luther felt God’s amazing grace and forgiveness for the first time.

According to some accounts, when Luther came to Christ he stepped out of his cell and made his way through the cloistered halls of the monastery and up the stairs to the belfry. He pulled the rope connected to the bells and rang the chimes in the middle of the night, as if to say to the world, “The just shall live by faith! The just shall live by faith!”[3]  -DM





[1] Michael A. Mullett, Martin Luther (New York: Taylor & Francis, 2004), 42.
[2] Erwin Lutzer, Rescuing the Gospel (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2016), 39-40.
[3] Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Ultimate Book of Quotes and Illustrations (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 326-327.  

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Divine Detours

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In the early 1900s, one of the world’s premier evangelists was Solomon Ginsburg. He has an interesting story, but the short version goes like this—Ginsburg was born in Poland into a Jewish family. As a young man, he converted to Christ after studying Isaiah 53. After his conversion, his family disowned him, but he persevered and became a well-known preacher.
            The story goes that in 1912 Ginsburg had finished up a month long evangelistic campaign in Lisbon, Portugal in which over a thousand professions of faith were made. He was tired and decided to take a furlough to the U.S. He bought tickets for a boat to take him from Portugal, then England, then to the U.S. But on the morning he was about set out, there were terrible weather reports for the Bay of Biscay. After praying about it and reading Deut. 2:7 during his devotions, he felt that the Lord was telling him to delay his trip. So, he waited a few days. Ginsburg eventually caught the Majestic in London and his transatlantic voyage was smooth and restful.
            Only after arriving in the U.S. did Ginsburg learn why his trip was delayed. Had he gone with his original schedule, Ginsburg would have arrived just in time to board the . . . Titanic.[i]

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                                                           Solomon Ginsburg (1867-1927)

God’s delays are not denials, and there is design in all His detours. Paul encountered a similar situation in Acts 16 during his second missionary journey:

            6 And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7 And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. 8 So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. 9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 And when Paul[c] had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. (Acts 16:6-10)

If you look at a map, you can clearly see that God called an audible in the middle of this second missionary journey. Having traveled up Asia Minor, Paul planned to go northeast which would lead him around the Black Sea and deeper into Asia. But, God slammed the door shut and padlocked it. Through a supernatural vision the Spirit directed Paul and company northwest. The mission would take them into Macedonia, which was the threshold into Greece and Europe.

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A good verse to keep in mind with this text is Psalm 37:23 which reads, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.” We could add to that, “the stops of a good man are ordered by the Lord.” Sometimes God orders our steps, by putting up stops. For reasons unknown at the time, the Holy Spirit would not allow Paul and his companions to go the way they first planned.

I was curious as I studied this passage, I wondered, “How many times has God redirected His servant’s travel agenda?” Here are just a few instances:

·         God allowed Joseph to be sold to a slave-trading caravan that took him from Canaan to an Egypt. That move resulted in Joseph’s ascendency to the Prime Minister (Gen. 37.  
·         The Lord detoured Moses and the nation of ex-slaves as they came out of Egypt. Instead of taking them directly into Canaan, he took them down to the Red Sea (Ex. 13-14).
·         The unexpected death of Ruth’s first husband led her to move from Moab to Bethlehem, where she would later meet Boaz (Ruth 1)
·         When Jonah refused to go preach to Ninevah, God sent a great fish to swallow him up and get him back on track (Jonah 2:10-3:1)
·         In John 4 Jesus went out of His way to go to Samaria just to meet the woman at Jacob’s well.
·        The angel of the Lord directed Philip to leave the revival in Samaria to meet up with an Ethiopian official on a dusty road outside Jerusalem (Acts 8)

In almost every one of those instances, God closed one door, but opened another one because there was a greater opportunity just around the bend.

In the case of Paul, he may have not realized it, but this course correction would alter world history—because God was leading him to establish a Gospel beachhead on the European continent. God had a divine appointment for Paul in Philippi to meet Lydia, a demon possessed girl and a jailer. Each one heard the Gospel because of a Spirit-inspired detour.   

The Spirit of God, leads the people of God, into the will of God. And, wherever God guides, He always provides. What Paul shows us in following the Spirit’s lead is that we must be flexible and adaptable to God’s plan. When God sets a divine appointment, He takes us off the beaten path to meet people whose hearts are hungry for the Gospel message.

A good prayer we should learn to pray is—“Lord, today put me in the path of someone who needs to hear about you. Lord give me faith to trust that you are ordering my steps and give me boldness to speak your word.”

-DM





[i] Robert J. Morgan, From This Verse (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1998), January 23.  

Monday, July 3, 2017

Revival at Valley Forge

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America’s fortunes have always been dependent on God-fearing leaders who understood their power was subservient to the throne of heaven. Let me remind you how that played out at Valley Forge, PA during the worst winter days of the Revolutionary War.

Gen. George Washington’s soldiers were cold, starving, undersupplied and desperate. More were dying of exposure than from battle. There are reports that men were so hungry that they were boiling their leather shoes to eat. Many of Washington’s freedom fighters were seriously considering deserting and returning home. Elsewhere, the American cause was slipping away. British armies occupied New York and Philadelphia and the powerful British navy patrolled the coast.

Washington ordered the army chaplains to conduct worship services for the troops, and he ordered his men to take seriously the national day of prayer and fasting proclaimed by Congress in April of 1778. One of Washington’s chaplains, thirty-year-old, Israel Evans preached a sermon on the theme of thanksgiving from Psalm 115 on the text, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory.” The sermon hit home and copies of it spread through Valley Forge. Washington read and endorsed the sermon, telling Evans, “It will ever be the first wish of my heart to aid your pious endeavors to inculcate a due sense of the dependence we ought to place in that wise and powerful Being on whom alone our success depends.”

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Israel Evans 

The army gained renewed morale, and later Washington said he hoped future generations would look back on the American Revolution to see how the hand of God’s guidance had wrought the miracle of liberty. Washington said, “The hand of Providence has been so conspicuous in all of this that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his obligations.”[1]

What would Washington think of us today? Our nation has lost both its faith and gratitude, but I haven’t lost hope. If God could reverse the fortunes of the Continental Army at Valley Forge, He can reverse the tides of evil today. He can send a great revival to our homeland if we repent and worship Him as we should. Our hope is not in government, but in God. -DM

14 Turn again, O God of hosts! Look down from heaven, and see; have regard for this vine, 15 the stock that your right hand planted . . . 18 Then we shall not turn back from you; give us life, and we will call upon your name! 19 Restore us, O Lord God of hosts! Let your face shine, that we may be saved!  (Psalm 80:14-15, 18-19)



[1] Rod Gragg, By the Hand of Providence (New York: Howard Books, 2011), 109-115. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Anointed by the Spirit

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I recently read about a Harvard physics lecturer, Dr. Greg Kestin, who conducted an experiment from a small boat on a choppy lake. When he poured just one tablespoon of oil onto the lake, it quickly spread over the surface of the water, calming the lake in an area measuring half an acre. Since olive oil spreads to just one molecule thick, it can cover a wide area and create a slick surface that prevents the wind from gaining traction with the water, thus quieting the waves and whitecaps.[1]

You may be interested to know that one biblical symbol for the Holy Spirit is oil. Coming off the heels of Jesus’ baptism when the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove (Luke 3:22), Jesus stood up in the synagogue of His hometown of Nazareth (Luke 4). As He strode to the front of the crowd, He unrolled the scroll containing Isaiah 61:1-2 and read these words:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18).

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The oil of anointing stands as a physical representation of Jesus being given the Holy Spirit to perform miracles in His ministry. This same theme reappears in Acts 10:38 when Peter is preaching about Christ, “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.”

Jesus' anointing with the Holy Spirit was as mysterious as it was unique. Jesus was as much man as if He weren’t God and as much God as if He weren’t man. In His divinity He was omnipotent, yet in His humanity Christ became impotent. The Spirit was given to empower the Son in His humanity, but the Spirit was also given as a visible, confirming sign to the people of the Son’s divinity. Jesus is the model for what it means to live one’s life in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Just as He received the Spirit at His baptism, so we receive the gift of the Spirit when we are born again by faith (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6). When we’re anointed with the oil of the Holy Spirit, our words, deeds, attitudes, and influence spreads further than we know, much like the oil on the surface of the lake. When the Holy Spirit uses us, we never know how far or how wide the ripple effect will extend—either geographically or in time. One simple word or deed for Christ, touched by the Spirit, may directly or indirectly touch someone elsewhere in the world without our knowledge, and it may have a chain reaction that continues until Christ comes. If you are a Christian, the question is not, "How much of the Holy Spirit do I have?" Every believer is indwelt by the same Spirit (Eph. 4:4). The real question is, "How much does the Spirit have you?" -DM  



[1] David Jeremiah, “One Tablespoon of Olive Oil,” Turning Points, April 2017, p. 35. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Eternity in Their Hearts

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“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Ecc. 3:11).

The human heart has a deep-seated longing to transcend our finite, earthly existence and to know the eternal God. The God-shaped vacuum at the core of our being demands to be filled. We have an itch for eternity that can only be scratched by the Divine. As Augustine said, “God has made us for himself and our hearts are restless until they rest in Him.”

The phrase “eternity in their hearts” means God has placed a big question mark deep in every man’s soul. This is proven by the fact that anthropological evidence suggests that every culture has an innate sense of the eternal—that this world is not all there is. The Egyptians erected the pyramids, Native Americans labored over sacred burial mounds and the Romans built huge mausoleums. Why? They each were in their own darkened way grappling to work out the eternal longing imbedded in their heart. Their mythology told them that time was merely a dress rehearsal for eternity.   

Don Richardson wrote a fascinating book entitled, Eternity in their Hearts based on Ecclesiastes 3:11. In this survey he presents more than twenty-five examples of missionaries all over the world who discovered cultures completely cut-off from Christianity. Yet all these tribal groups which were detached from civilization worshipped some kind of transcendent being. In an eerie way, these primitive people had deep longing for God, even if their religious rituals were misguided.

For example, Richardson tells about his experiences with the Sawi tribes of Dutch New Guinea—the headhunters whom Richardson went to evangelize in the 1950s. Though the bloodthirsty Sawi people prized war and violence, they also had a sacred ritual for reconciling two warring tribes. The chief’s own son would be offered to the other tribe as a “peace child.” Richardson saw this ritual as a parable of the Gospel, in which the Chief of all chieftains made peace with the lost tribe of humanity by offering up His only Son. Richardson’s thesis contended that, “Every human being has eternity in their heart and that winning people to Christ is a matter of discovering what piece or part of eternity they are familiar with and then helping them connect the dots to Christ.”[1]

According to Solomon, humanity is caught between time and eternity, thus the best way to spend our time is to live it in light of eternity.  As finite creatures we cannot understand the times and the seasons, the beginning from the end, until we have a personal relationship with the Creator of time. The great mystery is that God accomplishes His purposes in time, but it will not be until we enter eternity that we will begin to comprehend His total plan.  As Vance Havner has said, “The things we don’t understand about life—God puts a note on them that says, ‘I’ll explain later.’” 

The New Testament counterpart to Ecclesiastes 3:11, is Romans 8:28, “For we know that God works all things together for good to those that love Him and are called according to his purpose.” In other words, from the Divine perspective there is no ugliness in the events of our lives, only light and dark brushstrokes from the paintbrush of the Master.

I once heard Dr. Erwin Lutzer, of Chicago’s historic Moody Bible Church, tell the story about a trip that he took to an art museum.  He said that as he was looking at a painting by the master artist Rembrandt he noticed an ant crawling across the surface of the canvas.  He thought to himself, “How did that ant get up there on the painting?” Then he said, “There was no way the ant had any idea that he was walking on a priceless piece of art, to him it just looked like a muddled splotches of brown and grey.”  Lutzer commented that that’s what life is like when you have a narrow perspective.  We are like the ant unknowingly walking across a masterpiece. However, God’s sees the total picture. When we see a muddled composition it’s because we are too close to put things into perspective. Eternity is the only correct vantage point to judge time. 

-DM





[1] Don Richardson, Eternity in Their Hearts (Ventura, CA: Regal, 1981). 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Sherpa named "Dad"

Just as Mountain Climbers Need a Sherpa, So Children Need a Father

Mount Everest is as beautiful as she is deadly. Standing at 29,029 feet this monolith can create its own weather patterns with frigid temperatures, white-out blizzards and hurricane force winds. The crevasses, ice falls and narrow paths are a labyrinth of lethal traps. At over five-miles above sea level, the air is thin and altitude sickness is a constant threat for climbers. However, amidst all this danger are breathtaking vistas of God’s creation. The challenge of a lifetime and her unparalleled majesty is what draws so many intrepid souls to risk life and limb to plant their personal flag on its summit.  

Most climbers wouldn’t try to scale the slopes of Everest alone. They hire special guides called “Sherpas.” The Sherpas are a unique people who, for generations, have inhabited the Khumbu Valley, the national park surrounding Everest. Because they have been living in the area for so long, they have developed an ability to function at very high altitudes. Whereas most people start to have oxygen problems above eight thousand feet, they have an amazing endurance up to about twenty-three thousand feet. Since the Sherpa guides have trekked Everest many times, they are experts when it comes to knowing the weather patterns and the best time to climb.

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Hillary and Norgay

In May 1953, two men became the first in history to climb to the top of Mt. Everest; Edmund Hillary, a New Zealand beekeeper and explorer, and his Sherpa guide from Nepal, Tenzing Norgay. They reached the summit together and attained instant international fame. On the way down from the 29,000-foot peak, Hillary slipped and started to fall. He would almost certainly have fallen to his death, but Tenzing Norgay immediately dug in his ice-axe and braced the rope linking them together, saving Hillary’s life. At the bottom the international press made a huge fuss over the Sherpa guide’s heroic action. Through it all Tenzing Norgay remained very calm, very professional, very uncarried away by it all. To all the shouted questions he had one simple answer: “Mountain climbers always help each other.”[1]

Reflecting on this, I realized that God placed “Sherpas” in every family. His name is Dad and he is just as indispensable to his family as Norgay was to Hillary. Children need their fathers, like inexperienced climbers need the Sherpas, to guide them and to help them avoid the perils and unwise decisions of life. But they also need their fathers to help them appreciate the wonders that await them on the upward journey to fulfill God’s purpose for their lives.

Listen to the words of Solomon writing to his son in Proverbs 4:10-12, “Hear, my son, and accept my words, that the years of your life may be many. I have taught you the way of wisdom; I have led you in the paths of uprightness. When you walk, your step will not be hampered, and if you run, you will not stumble. Keep hold of instruction; do not let go; guard her, for she is your life.”

Fatherhood is the most amazing journey where Dad’s guidance and wisdom can lead a family from earth to heaven. Dads direct the destiny of their children. They are following in your footsteps. Where are you leading them? Are you leading them to a relationship with Jesus? Are you showing them how to find The Way to heaven?

Consider the words of this poem, by an unknown author:

“Walk a little slower, Daddy!” said a little child so small.
“I’m following in your footsteps and I don't want to fall.

Sometimes your steps are very fast, sometimes they're hard to see;
So walk a little slower Daddy, for you are leading me.

Someday when I’m all grown up, you’re what I want to be.
Then I will have a little child who’ll want to follow me.

And I would want to lead just right, and know that I was true;
So, walk a little slower, Daddy, for I must follow you!”

-DM



[1] Adapted from Roland Warren, Bad Dads of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 176-178.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Advocate

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From a Florida prison cell in June 1962, Clarence Earl Gideon wrote a note asking the United States Supreme Court to review his conviction for a crime he said he didn’t commit—stealing $50 worth of beer from a pool hall. He added that he didn’t have the means to hire a lawyer.

One year later, in the historic case of Gideon v. Wainright, the Supreme Court ruled that people who cannot afford the cost of their own defense must be given a public defender—an advocate—provided by the State. With this decision, and with the help of a court-appointed lawyer, Clarence Gideon’s case was retried and he was acquitted of felony theft.[1]

But what if we are not innocent? According to the apostle Paul, we are all guilty (Rom. 3:23). But the court of heaven provides an Advocate who, at God’s expense, offers to defend and care for our soul, “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1).

Jesus is our divine defense attorney who comes to us offering a freedom that even prison inmates have described as better than anything they’ve experienced on the outside. It is freedom from sin and shame. Whether suffering for wrongs done by us or to us, we all can be represented by Jesus. By the highest authority He responds to every request for mercy, forgiveness, and comfort. Jesus, our Advocate, can turn a prison of lost hope, fear, or regret into the place of His presence.

Bible commentator, John Phillips says it like this: “When Satan comes before God, he comes as “the accuser of the brethren” (Rev. 12:10).  This is one instance in which he does not come to tell lies about us, even though he is the Father of all lies…Sad to say he comes to tell the truth about us.  But, he gets nowhere.  The Accuser is met by the Advocate and all He has to do is raise His pierced hands and Satan is silenced.”[2]

There is one critical difference in this courtroom from all others—the one holding the gavel is your Heavenly Father, the defense attorney bears scars from paying your fine and the defendant (that’s you) happens to be loved unconditionally by both. Are you beginning to see the picture here? The courtroom is stacked in your favor.  If God be for us, who shall be against us?

-DM





[1] Mart De Hann, “The Advocate,” Our Daily Bread, 9 February 2017 <https://odb.org/2017/02/09/the-advocate/>
[2] John Phillips, Exploring the Epistles of John (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2003), 41.  

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

John Huss: The Goose Who Gave Rise to a Swan

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This year, Protestants around the world celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. On Truth for Today, we have already looked back on the influence of John Wycliffe, “The Morning Star” of the Reformation (click here). Now we look at another courageous man of faith who led the charge to rescue the Gospel from man-made traditions.   

Early in his monastic career, Martin Luther, rummaging through the stacks of a library, happened upon a volume of sermons by John Huss, the Bohemian who had been condemned as a heretic. “I was overwhelmed with astonishment,” Luther later wrote. “I could not understand for what cause they had burnt so great a man, who explained the Scriptures with so much gravity and skill.” Huss would become a hero to Luther and many other Reformers, for he preached key Reformation themes a century before Luther drew up his Ninety-Five Theses.

John Huss

John Huss was born in 1369 to peasant parents. As a young man he trained for the ministry and in 1401 he became the preacher at Prague’s Bethlehem Chapel (which held 3,000), the most popular church in one of the largest of Europe’s cities.

During his years as pastor in Prague, Huss was deeply influenced by the life and teachings of Wycliffe. Like Wycliffe, Huss believed that the Catholic Church had grown corrupt and needed radical reform. He rejected the Church’s doctrine of relics—the notion that if someone touched an artifact that formally belonged to martyr—a wisp of hair, a patch of their cloak, or a piece of bone—that special blessings were imparted from the martyr to the worshipper.

Huss also preached against the Church’s doctrine of indulgences, which stated that a believer could pay for a Church authorized document that guaranteed you or someone else could be freed from the temporal consequences of sin. For example, you could buy an indulgence for your recently deceased mother which would cut 1,000 years off her soul’s time in purgatory.

Like Wycliffe, Huss argued that the Bible alone was the basis for spiritual authority—not the Church, not councils, not traditions—and that the Bible should be available to the common man. For his bold preaching Huss was declared a heretic by the Pope. In November 1414, the Council of Constance assembled, and Huss was given the chance to defend his beliefs.

When Huss saw he wasn’t to be given a forum for explaining his ideas, let alone a fair hearing, he finally said, “I appeal to Jesus Christ, the only judge who is almighty and completely just. In his hands I plead my cause, not on the basis of false witnesses and erring councils, but on truth and justice.”

Huss was thrown into solitary confinement, where many pleaded with him to recant. On July 6, 1415, he was taken to the cathedral, dressed in his priestly garments, then stripped of them one by one. A paper crown was placed on his head with the words written across, “The Chief of Heretics.” He refused one last chance to recant at the stake, where he prayed, “Lord Jesus, it is for thee that I patiently endure this cruel death. I pray thee to have mercy on my enemies.” He was heard reciting the Psalms as the flames engulfed him.     

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The Execution of John Huss

Interestingly, the word “huss” is Czech for the word “goose.” A priest who watched the execution reported that before Huss died, he said, “You can cook this goose [huss] but within a century a swan shall arise who will prevail.” Thus, the origin of the expression, “Your goose is cooked.” A century later, Martin Luther saw himself as the fulfillment of Huss’ prophecy. Exactly 102 years after Huss was martyred, Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.[1]  



[1] Mark Galli and Ted Olsen, eds. 131 Christians Everyone Should Know (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2000), 369-361.
2 Erwin Lutzer, Rescuing the Gospel (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2016), 12-21. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Remembering the Fallen, Reliving the Cross

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On June 28, 2005, Lt. Michael Murphy led a four-man SEAL team deep into enemy territory through the rugged mountains of Afghanistan. Their mission was to scout out a Taliban leader who lived in the region. Murphy and his team came across a group of Afghan goat-herders. Marcus Luttrell, the second in command, had a gut feeling that the group might be Taliban spies. The team voted on what to do—finish them or free them—they decided to let them go.

A few hours later, the SEAL team was ambushed. Sure enough, the goat-herders had gone and reported their location to the Taliban. Outnumbered and at a terrain disadvantage, the SEAL team fought for nearly an hour until, the communications officer, Danny Dietz, attempted to send a distress call for air support. Dietz was shot before he was able to send the transmission.

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                                                            Members of the SEAL team

Realizing that a distress call had to be made, Murphy risked his life to save his team. Since the rough terrain made a broadcast difficult, he went into the open, despite his wounds, in order to request emergency assistance. As he was being fired upon, Murphy made contact with Bagram Air Base. During the transmission, he was shot in the back and dropped the radio, but he quickly picked it up and completed the call.  

A MH-47 Chinook helicopter, was sent in to extract the SEALs, but as the chopper approached the battle zone, a rocket-propelled grenade hit the Chinook and killed all 16 men aboard.

After about two hours of fighting, Murphy, Dietz, and Matthew Axelson were killed. Luttrell, though severely wounded, crawled down the side of a cliff and traveled seven miles on foot, evading the enemy. Locals came to his aid and carried him to a nearby village where he was given shelter for three days before he was rescued by U.S. forces.

Because of his courage and ultimately sacrificing his life, Lt. Murphy was able to place the call that led to the rescue of one of his team members. For his heroics, Murphy was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on Oct. 27, 2007.  

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                                                                   Michael Murphy

Men like Michael Murphy are the embodiment of Jesus’ words in John 15:13, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Memorial Day is a time of solemn remembrance for those who shed their blood for our national freedom, and to look to the One who shed His blood on the Cross for our spiritual freedom. According to the Bible, all love carries with it a price tag called sacrifice, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16).

The world has many misconceptions about what love is, but the Cross of Christ shows us that love is not just an emotion or a warm feeling we have. Love is displayed by willing the good of another no matter the cost. Christian love is voluntary (John 10:18), we give ourselves freely; vicarious (Gal. 2:20), we give ourselves for others; and vulnerable (Matt. 5:43-47) we give ourselves despite the fact we may not be loved in return. Francis Schaffer said it best, “Love is ultimate apologetic and the badge of the believer.” Let’s wear Christ’s love well.  -DM